Obama Praises ‘Good Friend’ Dalai Lama, Despite Chinese Objections

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President Barack Obama welcomed his “good friend” the Dalai Lama to Washington Thursday in an unprecedented joint appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast.

The annual event marked the first time that Obama and the Tibetan leaders have appeared together in public, after three closed-door meetings over the past five years. It took place despite Chinese government objections to any world leader meeting with the religious leader they consider a dissident.

Obama and the Dalai Lama did not directly meet at the event, but appeared to acknowledge each other from their tables. White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett sat at the Dalai Lama’s table in a sign of support.

In his remarks, Obama called the Dalai Lama “a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion and who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.”

The breakfast, held at the Washington Hilton, is an ecumenical but largely Christian event bringing together about 3,300 evangelical and other faith leaders. NASCAR star Darrell Waltrip delivered the keynote remarks.

“There aren’t many occasions that bring his Holiness under the same roof as NASCAR,” Obama joked. “This may be the first … but God works in mysterious ways.”

Photos: Strange Bedfellows at the National Prayer Breakfast

Billy Graham & JFK
John F. Kennedy, the nation's first Catholic president, eats breakfast with Southern Baptist minister Billy Graham at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1961.Abbie Rowe—PhotoQuest/Getty Images
Elizabeth Dole, then the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and later a Senator, spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1987.AP
Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa, a Catholic missionary who ran charities in India, spoke in 1994.Raveendran—AFP/Getty Images
President George W. Bush shakes hands with U2 frontman Bono, who spoke at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast.Ron Edmonds—AP
Bono was also seen with then-Sen. Barack Obama at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast.Ron Edmonds—AP
George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Francis Collins, Emanuel Cleaver, Diane Cleaver
Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, sings and plays guitar at the 2007 National Prayer Breakfast while President George W. Bush and Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II watch.Gerald Herbert—AP
US Vice President Joe Biden reaches for
Vice President Joe Biden reaches for milk while sitting next to former Prime Minister Tony Blair at the 2009 National Prayer Breakfast.Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodrigu
Michelle Obama sits with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was the guest speaker at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast.Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images
Conservative Activists And Leaders Attend The Iowa Freedom Summit
Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

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